“People are now seeing the value of data and realising that analytics can give them a competitive advantage. Historically there was always a resistance from businesses to invest.”
A principal consultant at The Smart Cube, Nisha Purswani has over a decade’s experience in advanced analytics and consulting. In her years in the industry, she’s noticed huge changes in almost every area of her job – but concedes that with data science, there’s always something new right around the corner.
Destined for data
Not many people know what they want to do from a young age, but for Nisha the path to a career in analytics was clear.
“Maths, computer science and data were always my areas of interest,” she says. “So I went into analytics right after I completed my Masters in Physics at BITS.”
The Birla Institute of Technology and Science (BITS) is one of India’s six ‘Institutes of Eminence’, and it was while studying there that Nisha was given the opportunity for her career to really take off.
“My first experience of the industry was an internship at the National Aerospace Laboratories in Bangalore,” she says. “Since then I’ve been working steadily, building my experience and developing my skills.”
An industry that never stands still
The data science industry has changed a lot over the last ten years, which means there’s never any time to get bored.
“The industry is incredibly fast moving,” says Nisha. “The tools that we use today compared to ten years ago are worlds apart. This makes the job interesting, but also very challenging – you can never retain perfectionism; today you may be using one tool, tomorrow the industry has moved on.”
As an outsourced analytics specialist, keeping up with the latest technologies is something The Smart Cube is expected to do, but it’s not just technological change that Nisha’s witnessed. The way job roles are defined is also hugely different.
“When I started, one analyst was expected to do everything,” she says. “Now there are specialisms for each part of the job. You have data engineers to do data management, data scientists developing statistical models and algorithms, and handling the maths side of things, and DevOps and visualisation building an effective user interface.”
A multi-focused specialism
As contradictory as it seems, Nisha’s current work for The Smart Cube requires her to be a specialist in more than one area. For the last few years she’s been working on the ground with a leading UK retailer, acting as the advanced analytics lead at its Data Analytics Centre of Excellence.
“I’ve been wearing a couple of different hats,” she says. “First, I have to wear my business hat, and advise our client how they should look at KPIs, what data they need, and how they can use it to make certain decisions. Then I have to change into my technical hat, and work within the team to design and execute the solutions that bring these ideas to life.”
Over four years, Nisha’s work with this retailer has involved everything from using analytics to successfully oversee a store merger, to calculating the effects changes to store layouts will have on sales.
The joy of discovery
For Nisha, the best thing about all of this work is seeing the results for herself.
“The most rewarding aspect of my job is seeing our recommended strategy executed, and then seeing the results of that execution – sometimes physically. With retailers, I can walk into a store and see a change to a product that I know is a direct reflection of the work we’ve done.”
This is happening more and more regularly, which is indicative of another big change in the industry.
“Historically, there was always a resistance from businesses to invest in data and data intelligence, because people thought they could make decisions without it,” says Nisha. “Now people understand the real value. They get that they can’t see trends without technology because the information is submerged in the data. It’s like an iceberg – you’re only ever going to see 30% of what’s there unless you look beneath the surface.”
Here’s to tomorrow – whatever it may bring
In an industry that has transformed so much over the last ten years, the question everyone’s asking today is, inevitably, ‘what’s next?’
“I think over the next few years we’re really going to see the potential of analytics and AI working together,” Nisha says. “Instead of having visualised reports that simply present your data, you’ll be able to ask virtual assistants key business questions and they’ll serve up answers straight away. Voice assistants will be particularly useful for time-pressed executives, to get immediate intelligence on KPIs and actions.”
“Machines will continue to get smarter with AI, for example using spatial data, drones and robots will be able to do home deliveries, carry out in-store procedures such as checking availability or stock-outs, and gather customer feedback.”
“The other thing I think we’ll see is greater IoT adoption. We’re going to be taking on such a huge amount of data and businesses will be really looking to exploit and maximise its commercial potential.”
Nisha's recommended reading: The Data Science Central newsletter
Want to meet more of The Smart Cube’s data scientists? Keep an eye out on our blog over the coming weeks and months!